I’m going to be straight up honest with you: Until . . . a year ago, I never opened a book, couldn’t write a 5-page essay for my life, didn’t even think about becoming a writer of any kind.
When I first began blogging, I always mention that it was like a journal to me — writing about random topics that I felt like discussing (although no one was responding).
Fast forward about eight months and I’m being featured on some of the most popular blogs in the world. And I’m actually being complimented saying that my writing is good (sometimes great).
I don’t mean to sound like I’m boasting, but clearly there are some things I did and learned along the way from a never-going-to-be-a-writer, to an actual writer who loves what he does.
I want to share those tips with you so that hopefully you can exercise them and use them to improve your writing.
First, understand that blogging is just another form of writing; it’s a type of writing. Writing is a fundamental skill that can get you many places. Blogging showcases your writing, exercises it, and it helps you build something out of nothing — that something can be anything from a business, to an ebook, to online courses, etc.
Being a great blogger is one thing — being a great writer is another.
If I were to name 10 of the most important ways to help develop and strengthen your writing, here they are:
- Do you love it? That’s something hard to answer in the beginning. Maybe you’ll be able to answer this along the way — I know I did. At first, I didn’t love writing. I was experimenting this craft. After a while . . . I sort of . . . felt obligated to write. Something inside of me wanted to burst out and just write and say things. Once you begin to love it, you will start creating opportunities and realizing the beauty and art of writing. You will learn to love it, you will want to do more, and you will get better because you want to.
- Read everyday. Anywhere you go, people and gurus and master writers will tell you to read everyday. I know this sounds redundant, but hear it one more time: You need to read everyday. Start by reading writing books, three of which I highly recommend you read right away, maybe even fast ship it so you can start tomorrow (I swear these books helped me so much).
- Write everyday. This is a tip that I told myself to do, but failed to follow up on it. It took me a while to actually develop the habit of sitting down and writing at least 1500-2000 words a day. If I could put my hands through your monitor, grab your face and shake it violently while telling you to follow up on this tip . . . believe me, I’d do it. If I had to narrow it down to one amazing tip:write everyday. There really is no other solution or tip or trick to become a great writer, other than writing everyday. How does a boxer become a better fighter? Working out, sparring, and exercising his craft everyday. How does an artist become better? Drawing/painting everyday. How does a photographer get the feel for his camera and tools, and take breathe-taking pictures? They take pictures everyday. The way I followed up on this idea: find your hours that you’re most productive and work best; write notes on the wall or on post-its reminding you to write; write about anything, whether your childhood, an idea for a draft, just write something . . . anything! The sooner you develop this habit, you’ll find yourself writing more at a quicker speed — sometimes you’ll catch yourself smiling down at the page, shocked that those fantastic words came out of head.
- Steal ideas. I know this sounds wrong & evil, but the truth is writers steal ideas from other writers or other sources all the time. The truth is: many people steal ideas. Find me an original idea . . . because honestly there really aren’t any. The point is to find something, anything, and add your own creativity and twist to it. This makes that “stolen” idea unique and special because it was created by you — and as far as I know, there isn’t another you . . . not biologically or personally. When you see a good quote from a movie, write it down and use it in your next post — maybe create a post from that one quote, if you can.
- Steal from your heroes. In my recent guest post on Men with Pens, I talk about how my favorite author, Hunter S. Thompson, inspired me to steal from my heroes. Let me explain: Hunter would take a book like The Great Gatsby, sit at his typewriter, and write the whole book out. Why? Because he wanted to learn the magic of great writing — he happened to love F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you love a specific author, love the style and voice, write their book over. You won’t completely adapt to their voice, but you can take a little bit of their style here and there. It will help your writing a hundred fold. It’ll help you find your voice; you’ll master grammar; build your vocabulary; and create a little unique style of your own.
- Build your vocabulary. When I was at Barnes & Noble, I bought flashcards with vocabulary on them; all organized on different levels and difficulties. Ever since I’ve been studying them, I realized how natural some words come out in my writing. You shouldn’t have to be searching a thesaurus to find the right word. Sure it’ll help, but if it isn’t natural, then your writing doesn’t sound like you. Your audience wants a voice to listen to; not some pretentious sounding bastard who thinks they know it all. Your readers want to relate, learn, and really feel your writing. The best way to do it is to be natural. Conversational. Real. If I study a hundred words, I’ll probably only use twenty of them, max. I’m just being honest. Maybe you’ll use more, but some words I just don’t look right saying.
- Go back to elementary school. Do you remember the basics? All the different types of verbs, nouns, subjects, predicates, and uses of grammar? Chances are you don’t know everything, but some. I say, why not know them all? If we want to be masters at writing — or anything we do — doesn’t seem right to know every little aspect of our art? It should even be as serious as when someone asks what something is, we know it like the back of our hand. Why not? This is just another tool in the toolbox. Sharpen this tool, and it’ll help you improve in other aspects. How could you do this? Pick up any inexpensive book on Amazon regarding grammar and basic English 101, and study it front to back.
- Embrace shitty first drafts and failure. You are not going to wake up tomorrow and become Stephen King or J.K Rowling. You will not create a masterpiece on your first try . . . or second . . . maybe even third. These are some of the facts of writing, and you need to embrace it now. If there is one craft in this world that is tedious and sucks all your energy out: it has gotta be writing. When you have an idea, whatever it may be, just realize that whatever you get down on paper is just the beginning. After you read it out loud, maybe share it with a friend, you’ll realize there are some confusing words, phrases, and maybe a missing element. This is where you improve and create the second draft. The second draft is going to be a little clearer, but not complete. You will know when something is finished because there will be nothing else to put. If your message is clear and compelling, you have done your job as a writer. Just remember, the first draft is always shitty and failure eventually has to be looked at as a stepping stone or a great lesson learned.
- Expand & Experiment. Once you get the flow of things, experiment with your writing. Don’t limit yourself and narrow your art. Try new forms of writing. Try poetry. Try writing a book. Try writing fiction or news stories or how-to guides. Writing is an incredible and fundamental craft. It’s one of those skills that can take you anywhere in this world. It’s rare as hell, too. Gather thousands of people, and I bet you only a handful are good writers — or at least understand the basics without completely butchering the English language. If you happened to find a passion for writing, I’d say you fell into something magnificent — something with endless opportunities. Expand your knowledge and experiment your craft.
- Shhh, just watch and listen. Besides being able to put ideas and thoughts down onto paper and portray a story, writers need to exercise their ability to just be quiet and observe. Writers need to pay attention to the little details — the ones that tell a story. We have to be able to paint a picture with words, and in order to realize that a picture is everywhere, we must be attentive. This can create ideas, build a story, and help you formulate your words and thoughts together. Get used to writing down ideas. You may force yourself to believe that you have this incredible power to remember everything you jotted down in your subconscious, but we know that’s not true. The Chinese have a saying, “the faintest ink is better than the best memory.” Next time you have some brilliant idea, or maybe even a simple one, write it down! As a writer, you should have stacks and files and folders all filled with ideas. It’s your job to go back to to them and use them.